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noisebloom

What makes a map good?

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Hi guys,

 

I've recently begun working on some maps for a Doom WAD I intend to complete someday. I've read and watched some tutorials, and I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of the technical mechanics behind it.

 

However... I'm pretty sure my maps suck a lot. I've tried looking at other maps I like to discern "what makes a map good", but I'm not a visual learner (though I am a very creative person, in general); I usually need to understand something from a theoretical or objective viewpoint instead of merely "imitating".

 

What are the attributes of a good map? What are the attributes of a bad map? Any resources out there on good game flow, level design, etc? Or perhaps lend me your analysis of a specific map and explain to me the "good" and "bad" aspects of it.

 

I understand that this is a pretty subjective question, but there are definitely maps/WADs out there that are generally perceived to play better. I'd like to strive to make the best maps I'm capable of and enjoy playing them as time goes on. I also want to be able to objectively assess how one map I make is better than another.

 

Thanks!

 

-noise

 

P.S. I don't really want to make slaughter maps... Rather, maps with quiet moments, ambushes, very Ultimate Doom-inspired stuff.

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Having a map or set of maps defeat your expectations in a positive way. That's obviously subjective to what those expectations were, but ideally you want it to be surprising in an engaging way or to take an existing idea or set of ideas further forward. You should have something you set out to do and have that map be appreciated by people other than yourself for what you set it out to do, be that gameplay or visual-wise. That could be a definition of good. There aren't correct answers here though, apart from probably the ones that give you a sense of personal satisfaction.

 

If you wanted to look at maps which are good, look at the ones that set out to do and/or achieve something and then have the reception to show that they did that thing well.

 

Quote

I also want to be able to objectively assess how one map I make is better than another.

 

That kind of analysis comes naturally just through experience and feeling of how you're doing, I wouldn't personally worry about reflecting into the future like that.

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I’m very recently getting into mapping myself, so I’ve had this question on my mind a lot, as well. For me personally, it’s always just come down to: did I have fun playing that level? Of course, as you mentioned, this is heavily subjective. Some people might prefer to play Sunder, others might prefer Cyberdreams. But I think there are common factors to be found in any popular wad.

 

On a personal note, Scythe 2 always seems to stand to me. Not because it’s the best wad ever made, but simply because it’s the one I remember having the most fun playing through (except maybe the last 3 levels, I’m not a huge slaughter fan, either). And in retrospect, I think the single most rewarding aspect of Erik Alms’ level design for me was his consistent and creative use of emotional impacts. He had a great way of leading the player into these very jarring and unexpected moments where, at first it seemed hopeless and terrifying, but sooner (or later) you’d figure out the “winning formula” so-to-speak, for overcoming the scenario. His approach seemed to rely heavily on throwing me into a precarious situation, and just letting me figure out how I needed to use the game mechanics to get myself out. It was exciting, rewarding, and made an impact. One such moment that burned itself into my memory was MAP10: Pharaos Tomb. The first time I played that map, the last room almost gave me a heart attack. But it felt awesome when I beat it!

 

I know there’s a lot said about “flow”, and “inter-connectivity” when it comes to the philosophy of good level design – as well as a multitude of tips on mapping etiquette (or the art of not being a jerk to your players) – and I do believe these things have their value, and should be taken into consideration. That said, I think in a more general sense, a fun (sic) level is one that simply makes a strong impact, and you can accomplish this in a lot of different ways.

 

Unexpected challenges have always been my personal favourite. They force me to really engage and think; they offer me a chance to improve my skills, and when I’m finally victorious, I feel fantastic (and not just because of that keycard or soulsphere I earned, but those help too!)

 

I would wager that a strong, positive emotional impact is a huge part of why good “flow” is considered so important, not necessarily because of the positive impact it makes, but because of how it can be used to deter a negative one – the frustration of getting lost in a level.

 

I wouldn’t worry much about hammering down an exact formula though, or a set of rules or anything. I personally believe that Doom maps are an art form, not a science, and the best thing you can do with art is just experiment. Try as many things as you can imagine, and when you wind up with something that you have a lot of fun playing, chances are, someone else will enjoy it, too.

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Posted (edited)

Since, as you just said, this is all about personal opinions here are my do and don't in the mapmaking process. And as far as I know some of them are general advises that are supposed to be considered "true" by the vast majority of this community, according to other similar discussion.

 

Spoiler

- avoid switch-hunting:

some people like puzzles, but the general principle is that if a switch does something, you have to provide the player with an indication of what this switch does. This could be a direct view of the action (a window, switches put near their target etc.).

The sound of a door that opens somewhere is not a clear indication and tend to frustrate the player (but could be a rather good secret hint).

Also avoid to place repeatable switch where a single use one can do the job as well. Repeatable switches are often linked to timed doors, lifts or platforms, that, if hidden, can break your map flow.

 

- avoid ammo starvation:

giving the player little ammo can create tension and, if used well, can improve the quality of your level. However seeing a map where all the difficult comes from ammo starvation (punching a baron is not fun) is something that upsets a lot of players. 

If you want to make a map that is low on ammo, be sure to provide a berserk pack or a way to bypass the fights.

 

-ammo consistency:

Starting a map and finding ammo for everything, then in the middle of the map having to punch everything is often a bad level design choice. 

An "ammo hub" sistem, where all the ammo is in a single place can be fun but implies usually a lot of backtrack.

On the other hand, having an apparetly unlimited supply of ammo kills the difficult and challengness (is this a word in english?) of the map.

 

-monster placement: 

Having that you want ambushes in your maps this one is quite important.

Avoid to attack the player always by one side. 3 Revenants that come from the front of the player are less challenging than 2 demons that charge the player and one revenant that ambushes him from behind. Try to surprise you players, catch them out of guard and when they doesn't expect an attack. An ambush when I pick up a key is old, for example, but if done well, as everything else, can be fun.

Try to understand where every monster is better (revenants or chaingunners in turrets is the most classic example of good monster usage) and place them in such a way that they cooperate with each other. Example: I enter a room, and I see 2 chaingunners in front of me. I try to avoid them by taking cover in the previous room but a closet has being opened behind me and a demon block my way. Will I die here? Probably no. Will I take damage? Probably yes. Will I think that the mapper has made a good work during the monster placement phase? Surely.

 

- atmosphere and detail:

A player is much more pushed in playing a map if it's well designed.

A square room full of monster is usally not a good design choice. Putting some height variation, some pillars and some decorations (torches, dumb sectors with a nice UAC logo in them, rivers, ceiling decorations etc...) can improve the overall quality of your map. 

Also avoid ortogonality. Modern builders have simple tools that allow you to play with shapes in order to make an area look interesting (your decorations don't have to be realistic, they have to be plaesant to see).

 

-texture choice:

avoid texture incoherency. Creating a wall alternating bloodfall and startan textures is a strange choice. If you want to change texture be sure to put something that breaks the continuity of the first texture or you will obtain a weird-looking wall.

 

-avoid to repeat yourself:

A map that uses the same idea 10 times in a row is a boring map, even if it is a masterpiece in level of detail. Avoid repeating the ambushes, the room geometry and the overall idea behind the fights. You can give you a rule of using an idea at most 3 times in a map. This will help a lot also in finding new ways to develop your map, in keeping high the player attention and will force you to find new and unseen ideas that will make your map unique.

 

-think about your level layout:

is always fun to see a map developing around itself, with a lot of connection between areas. Using an older area again is not a bad choice, as long as you repopulate it or you change his layout (you have the power to play with walls, don't forget to modify them).

Some players also like to have the choice of what path to follow in order to complete your map. Giving the player a non-linear experience is fun but be careful to avoid the infamous switch-hunting and to not make the player lost. 

 

-put a goal, an achievement:

if the player knows what is he supposed to do then you have more possibilities to have a satisfied player that will use his intelligence, or your hints, in order to complete the task. 

For example: seeing a locked door is something

seeing a marked locked door and at the same time seeing a switch with the same marks in a building that you have to explore is something different

 

- avoid inescapable pits and impossible encounters:

this explains itself. Both this things are not fun and the second one simply makes your map unplayable

 

-reward the player:

as your map, or your wad, goes on the pkayer wants to see some progression both in his equipment and in the opposition that he face. Having to face a lone zombieman in the final level of your megawad is highly anticlimatic, for example.

At the same time provide the player with weapons in order to kill enemies faster, so that he thinks "ok, I'm making progress because this is no longer a threat". For example if you want to challenge the player with a Baron that has to be killed with a single shotgun do it, but when the player has overcame your challenge is no longer neededto repeat it, he has proved to you that he can do it, he probably doesn't want to prove it again. Next time provide him with a rocket launcher and 5 rockets, or provide another kind of reward.

 

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, noisebloom said:

I understand that this is a pretty subjective question, but there are definitely maps/WADs out there that are generally perceived to play better. I'd like to strive to make the best maps I'm capable of and enjoy playing them as time goes on. I also want to be able to objectively assess how one map I make is better than another.

If what you want is to be able to enjoy playing your maps, then the most important thing of course is the gameplay itself. When it comes to gameplay tropes, there's no shortage of things you can do, but whatever it is that you end up doing, it needs to be executed well enough to be enjoyable even after a handful of tries. If you end up playing your map in its entirety, and you die like halfway through, the moment you think to yourself "I don't want to repeat that stuff I just now did in order to get here" is a strong signal that something somewhere didn't turn out well. But take this with a grain of salt, because after testing the fights you made for what feels like the 100th time, everything looses its appeal ever so slightly.

Having said that, the most important aspect is that whatever you put together needs to be "mecanically sound" and it needs to avoid "lows" that aren't very entertaining/engaging (if possible). Letting people take a breather is one thing, making them go through a relatively extensive and dull repetition (Corner/Doorcamps, backtracking through empty areas, or fights that result in instant circle strafing) is another. Consider what it is that makes your map fun in your opinion and look at what you think is the least fun about it, and figure out a way to get rid of - or at least reduce - the situations that aren't as interesting.

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Hmm good maps have strong concepts, even the IWADs. Still, the mapping scene has a lot of different kind of maps, focusing on its own concepts, which can be the complete oppose of the concepts of another wad.

 

So, the key, I believe, is to find what you love about your favorite maps: Do you enjoy epic battles or incidental fighting? Do you enjoy semi-realistic environments or abstract settings? Do you enjoy a Doom 2 closer feeling or something more adventurous? Of course, the answer can be both, but when you chose to make a level, you'll have to choose what kind of map you'll want :P

 

As for myself, for example, I prefer shorter levels that reminds of plutonia with its tight monster placement. I also enjoy a lot listenning to funk while killing some demons lol

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1 hour ago, rdwpa said:

 

  Reveal hidden contents

- A lot of optional content -- 13 (!) secrets (if I'm remembering that number correctly). Some are really useful (e.g. plasma rifle); some are a bit more trouble than they are technically worth (e.g. a bunch of monsters guarding a mere chainsaw), and in that case the reward is the discovering / challenge itself. You don't need a high secret tally; optional areas are fine too. Every weapon except for the BFG is present, but you don't really need more than 1-2. The others are your rewards for secrets and optional sidequests. That gives you a lot of freedom in how you might play the map. Interestingly, the YK is completely optional. It unlocks a bunch of goodies, though. 

 

- The optional content is spread all around the mandatory content, piquing curiosity. At one point you are given a red key right behind the blue key door, which might seem pointless (why not compress those keys into one), but the effect of that is revisiting old territory ('ah cool I've been here before'). 

 

- The gameplay is tuned for satisfaction, rather than monsters playing strategic roles to create threat -- basically half of the combat is berserk vs. imps. If you are trying to use Containment Area's principles, you don't have to stick to imp-berserk gameplay in particular, but it would help to decide on 2-3 core combinations you find enjoyable and go with that. 

 

- Also worth noting that monster placement is on the sparse side. In the crate maze, you are given one or two imps at a time, on a drip feed, which might have the effect of motivating you to seek out more imps to punch if you enjoy that. It becomes a scavenger hunt of sorts. There are a handful of several-monster clusters, however; contrast is generally useful.


- The crate maze is of course the most iconic part of this map. The key attributes that make it work are (1) nooks and crannies and other just-out-of-sight spots for exploration and spelunking; (2) multiple 'layers', both the ground level and a top that you can climb up to and hop around on, but without that being mandatory; (3) all wrapped up with a neat pseudo-realistic touch (crate texturing makes the irregular cuboid architecture feel quite logical). It feels somewhat larger than it is because you are never in a position to see all of it at once. 

 

- The layout is dynamic and interactive: instead of just doors (or other typical progression barriers), you can hit switches to make goodies lower, there are crushers, there is a stairbuilder effect, there is a bridge that raises, a donut effect, etc. Some of these are pretty creative, like the ceiling-highlighted path to the YK, and the three-cylinder floor raising/lowering contraption.

 

Awesome description of E2M2. It's a fantastic map, probably the best classic Doom map overall (although I tend to get confused by the several similar-looking areas). Also featuring a soundtrack that perfectly captures everything there is about the Doom 'feeling': Awe, curiosity, loneliness, progress, hope.

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30 minutes ago, xvertigox said:

I find flow and engaging combat encounters to be the two biggest tennants for my own maps. I can't say I'm the best mapper but I have learnt a few things along the way which basically all boil down to: use fireblu. Need to make an important area noticable? Fireblu. Is your yellow key in a dead end forcing backtracking? Make a fireblu hallway. Need more detail in that big setpiece? Fireblu. See the thing about fireblu is, it has 2 colors. This means it is literally usable on any wall or flat. If you're struggling with combat throw up some fireblu and it's instantly interesting. You don't give a shit about which monsters you're killing and how when you think "oh fuck, that walls pretty dope".

This man knows what's up.

 

Seriously though, put loops in your maps. If backtracking is necessary people don't want to see a lot of the same area again. Have the area change and repopulate it so it feels new. Have the map loop around so you naturally come back to where you need to be. Avoid being overly repetitious with stuff like key traps. Those kinds of things are what I feel is important anyway.  

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Some great replies here so I don't have much to add, but I think as long as you keep that belief and keep learning, the experience you get from releasing more and more maps will teach you a lot; just keep at it and never drop the want/need to learn :D

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4 hours ago, RonnieJamesDiner said:

I personally believe that Doom maps are an art form, not a science, and the best thing you can do with art is just experiment. Try as many things as you can imagine, and when you wind up with something that you have a lot of fun playing, chances are, someone else will enjoy it, too.

 

Having been a musician and writer for most of my life, art has always been a combination of methodical process and experimentalism, so I assume I'm going to find a similar approach useful here. Having said that, I definitely need to throw more at the wall when it comes to Doom editing and see what I come up with.

 

 

3 hours ago, Simomarchi said:

Since, as you just said, this is all about personal opinions here are my do and don't in the mapmaking process. And as far as I know some of them are general advises that are supposed to be considered "true" by the vast majority of this community, according to other similar discussion.

 

  Hide contents

- avoid switch-hunting:

some people like puzzles, but the general principle is that if a switch does something, you have to provide the player with an indication of what this switch does. This could be a direct view of the action (a window, switches put near their target etc.).

The sound of a door that opens somewhere is not a clear indication and tend to frustrate the player (but could be a rather good secret hint).

Also avoid to place repeatable switch where a single use one can do the job as well. Repeatable switches are often linked to timed doors, lifts or platforms, that, if hidden, can break your map flow.

 

- avoid ammo starvation:

giving the player little ammo can create tension and, if used well, can improve the quality of your level. However seeing a map where all the difficult comes from ammo starvation (punching a baron is not fun) is something that upsets a lot of players. 

If you want to make a map that is low on ammo, be sure to provide a berserk pack or a way to bypass the fights.

 

-ammo consistency:

Starting a map and finding ammo for everything, then in the middle of the map having to punch everything is often a bad level design choice. 

An "ammo hub" sistem, where all the ammo is in a single place can be fun but implies usually a lot of backtrack.

On the other hand, having an apparetly unlimited supply of ammo kills the difficult and challengness (is this a word in english?) of the map.

 

-monster placement: 

Having that you want ambushes in your maps this one is quite important.

Avoid to attack the player always by one side. 3 Revenants that come from the front of the player are less challenging than 2 demons that charge the player and one revenant that ambushes him from behind. Try to surprise you players, catch them out of guard and when they doesn't expect an attack. An ambush when I pick up a key is old, for example, but if done well, as everything else, can be fun.

Try to understand where every monster is better (revenants or chaingunners in turrets is the most classic example of good monster usage) and place them in such a way that they cooperate with each other. Example: I enter a room, and I see 2 chaingunners in front of me. I try to avoid them by taking cover in the previous room but a closet has being opened behind me and a demon block my way. Will I die here? Probably no. Will I take damage? Probably yes. Will I think that the mapper has made a good work during the monster placement phase? Surely.

 

- atmosphere and detail:

A player is much more pushed in playing a map if it's well designed.

A square room full of monster is usally not a good design choice. Putting some height variation, some pillars and some decorations (torches, dumb sectors with a nice UAC logo in them, rivers, ceiling decorations etc...) can improve the overall quality of your map. 

Also avoid ortogonality. Modern builders have simple tools that allow you to play with shapes in order to make an area look interesting (your decorations don't have to be realistic, they have to be plaesant to see).

 

-texture choice:

avoid texture incoherency. Creating a wall alternating bloodfall and startan textures is a strange choice. If you want to change texture be sure to put something that breaks the continuity of the first texture or you will obtain a weird-looking wall.

 

-avoid to repeat yourself:

A map that uses the same idea 10 times in a row is a boring map, even if it is a masterpiece in level of detail. Avoid repeating the ambushes, the room geometry and the overall idea behind the fights. You can give you a rule of using an idea at most 3 times in a map. This will help a lot also in finding new ways to develop your map, in keeping high the player attention and will force you to find new and unseen ideas that will make your map unique.

 

-think about your level layout:

is always fun to see a map developing around itself, with a lot of connection between areas. Using an older area again is not a bad choice, as long as you repopulate it or you change his layout (you have the power to play with walls, don't forget to modify them).

Some players also like to have the choice of what path to follow in order to complete your map. Giving the player a non-linear experience is fun but be careful to avoid the infamous switch-hunting and to not make the player lost. 

 

-put a goal, an achievement:

if the player knows what is he supposed to do then you have more possibilities to have a satisfied player that will use his intelligence, or your hints, in order to complete the task. 

For example: seeing a locked door is something

seeing a marked locked door and at the same time seeing a switch with the same marks in a building that you have to explore is something different

 

- avoid inescapable pits and impossible encounters:

this explains itself. Both this things are not fun and the second one simply makes your map unplayable

 

-reward the player:

as your map, or your wad, goes on the pkayer wants to see some progression both in his equipment and in the opposition that he face. Having to face a lone zombieman in the final level of your megawad is highly anticlimatic, for example.

At the same time provide the player with weapons in order to kill enemies faster, so that he thinks "ok, I'm making progress because this is no longer a threat". For example if you want to challenge the player with a Baron that has to be killed with a single shotgun do it, but when the player has overcame your challenge is no longer neededto repeat it, he has proved to you that he can do it, he probably doesn't want to prove it again. Next time provide him with a rocket launcher and 5 rockets, or provide another kind of reward.

 

 

I like the concrete examples, though I will say this: Knee Deep had a lot of the "I just hit this switch - what does this do?" scenarios, and I found it very intriguing and exciting.

 

3 hours ago, rdwpa said:

One piece of actionable advice: what a lot of these have in common is the implication that a game is an experience, played by a human being. Imagine the constituent beats of your map mediated through a conscious entity. What is the player feeling, what do you want them to be feeling? Intrigue, excitement, curiosity about x, fear, relief, hilarity, awe, suspense ... etc. To some extent you can create a positive experience by striving only to make 'a good-looking map that has fun fights', but it can't hurt to at select moments, say something like 'I want the player to feel boxed-in and desperate now' and then craft something along those lines. How is the player supposed to feel when they look up at this ceiling? How is the player suppose to feel when they unleash this trap? How is the player supposed to feel when they do this platforming section? Are you feeling it now Mr. Krabbs?

 

Or on the side of the coin, use experience as a diagnostic. 'How does the player feel now considering they have to run all the way back up to the top of the mountain after getting the exit.?' 'Hmm, maybe that is boring.' Endless doorcamp fights are 'bad' not because The Book of Abstract Disassociated Mapping Advice said so but because... the person playing the map might get bored. (Hint: what if the player doesn't get bored at this particular moment?!) The Mapping Dogma Dog barked that height variation is good? Okay, what if in this particular fight all it does is lead to infinite-heighting (annoying experience!) or let me cheese cybie (boring, negation of excitement that this section of the map's arc might call for). 

 

This is really great advice. I don't think I'm really putting myself in the shoes of others, but if I were able to detach myself enough from my creation, I think I could do this.

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1 minute ago, noisebloom said:

This is really great advice. I don't think I'm really putting myself in the shoes of others,...

 

Here's a tangential, insulary thought I have when playing wads: When I see something sweet in a map I think about the mapper and what he might have thought while making it. This is especially true for older wads, I'll sometimes think "hey man, I'm playing your map 20 years later and room/staircase/fight is sick". I like to think when designing it they had a similar thought and it forms some sort of connection through time.

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If the map's presentation and design convey information to the player clearly without obfuscation, and the player feels like the time spent in it is worthwhile, it is a good map.

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1 hour ago, noisebloom said:

Knee Deep had a lot of the "I just hit this switch - what does this do?" scenarios

Oh yeah I have no doubts that there are a lot of people that like this kind of thing. 

But in my opinion Knee Deep had a different approach at the situation. 

For example E1M2. You open the red door and on the right there is the toxic pit with the switch hidden behind the pillar. You push it and nothing happens. But as soon as you return to your original path you see that a wall has been lowered revealing a maze.

E1M3 has the switch in the "computer area", the one leaked by the window on the right on the soulsphere's one. You cannot see what does this switch do but as soon that you return with the blue key to open the blue door you notice that a new path has been opened.

E1M4 has the switch to raise the final bridge to the exit right behind a door leading to that room, so that when you enter you immediately see a path to the exit.

 

Knee Deep has unclear switches but, if I remember well, quite all of them modifies the level in such a way that is almost impossible to miss the changes. 

The maze behind the blue door in E1M6 has a switch that does something completely random, this is true. Probably also E1M7 has something similar.

 

On the other hand Eternal Doom by team TNT is, for me, unplayable. Secret inside secret that are non secret because you need them. Repeatable switches that open repeatable switches that open a path behind a fake wall on the other side of the map without any apparent logical pattern. I don't like this kind of thing but maybe you do.

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